Sophie Collombet: How many walked past the dying student?

LOTS of people walked right past a naked Sophie Collombet on a park bench along the Brisbane River.

Her beaten, bloody body was covered in newspaper and her murderer's clothing.

Tragically, they thought she was homeless.

But a man, who himself had slept under the bridge that fateful night, eventually did check on her lifeless body.

He found no pulse and the 21-year-old was not breathing.

CPR attempts were futile.

French student Sophie Collombet.
French student Sophie Collombet.

Ipswich sex addict Benjamin James Milward had violently raped her for his own sexual gratification and then left her for dead.

She was alive, barely, when he promised to get her help.

But he "panicked", buying a train ticket to Ipswich where he grew up.

He never took that train ride - instead fleeing to Coffs Harbour in NSW while police pasted her horrific final moments together.

Milward, now 28, shook, clearly emotional, as he was sentenced in Brisbane Supreme Court to life imprisonment for murdering the French student while tripping on a cocktail of beer, wine, spirits and the drug ice in March 2014.

He was sentenced to 15 years jail for the rape, to be served concurrently.


Milward listened to Crown prosecutor Todd Fuller tell the court how Ms Collombet died from significant head injuries, including skull fractures and haemorrhaging, sustained while he raped her.

Her injuries were the result of severe force from either an object or connection with a hard, uneven surface.

Milward told police he had a limited recollection because he was drug-affected but he could recall sexually assaulting a girl.

He presumed the injuries to her head occurred when he grabbed her and dragged her backward toward the rotunda.

Although he had some recall of striking her while she was lying on the table, he claimed he did not have a weapon.

He was at a loss to explain why he grabbed her as she was walking past - on her way home from a three-hour lecture at Griffith University where she was studying her masters of business.

"What I've done is just f***ing horrible. I didn't intend for nothing to happen," he told police, claiming he was "a bit of a sex addict".

To him, Ms Collombet was just a way to meet his heightened sexual desires during his ice-fuelled rage.

But her family, who travelled to Australia from France for the sentencing, described a young woman whose bright future was snatched from her by Milward's selfish, cowardly behaviour.


Sophie Collombet's family and boyfriend in front of court after Benjamin James Milward, 28, was sentenced to life in prison for her murder.
Sophie Collombet's family and boyfriend in front of court after Benjamin James Milward, 28, was sentenced to life in prison for her murder. Rae Wilson

Boyfriend Borris Forrest, through tears, told the court he was taking sleeping pills and sedatives to cope with losing his future with his beloved Sophie.

He had lived with Ms Collombet in Brisbane for a year and had returned to France just six weeks before she was taken from him.

She was planning to run back to his arms as soon as she had finished her exams.

"All my nights are haunted by memory and nightmares," Mr Forrest told the court.

"I am unable to concentrate so I had to quit my job … to try and remove all the hatred in me.

"I can no longer make plans I have been doing my best but I live day to day.

"Whatever I do, there is always this pain in me.

"Sophie and I had plans for the future, we set dreams.

"In an instant, everything was gone, our projects remained only a dream."

Through an interpreter, the family also talked about Ms Collombet's big smile, beautiful blue eyes and the kindness that shone through to everyone she met.

"Everything collapsed upon hearing about her death," the victim impact statement read.

"Time has stopped for us, her family and her countless friends around the world.

"We have lost sleep. We are in a state of moral and physical exhaustion.

"We feel a constant pain because there is always something that reminds us of Sophie."

Crown prosecutor Todd Fuller told the court such an horrific crime struck "at the very heart of the community" and community protection loomed large.

"It involved cowardly, brazen predatory behaviour … purely for his own sexual gratification," he said.

"Such offences strike at the very heart of the community. It affects people's behaviour and perceptions of their own personal safety in the public spaces in the city.

"The injuries bespeak the vicious and violent nature of the attack.

"The last moments of Ms Collombet's life were no doubt filled with terror as she was unable to resist this man's assault on her.

"A degree of force was used to overpower her. All this was aimed at achieving an intention to satiate his sexual urge.

"Forensic evidence shows he achieved that purpose.

"The way in which Ms Collombet was abandoned once the prisoner had achieved this purpose, the evidence shows the callous disregard his man had for her.

"She survived for some time after the assault came to an end.

"The senseless attack was alcohol and drug fuelled."

CCTV footage of Sophie Collombet.
CCTV footage of Sophie Collombet.

Justice Ann Lyons said this should serve as a warning to other drug users, especially those addicted to ice.

"Addiction to ice is immediate, the results are always catastrophic," she said.

"It's a just a question of the magnitude of the catastrophe."

Justice Lyons spoke to Milward about the Ms Collombet's family taking the sad journey to Australia for the sentence.

"Nothing can every erase their profound grief and the enormity of their loss," she said.

"Nothing can ever diminish the enormity of your appalling actions on that night.

"She died not far from this courthouse, I can see the spot from my room."

Justice Lyons said Milward's actions defied belief.

"By your actions a beautiful young woman has died," she said.

"She was a young, vibrant woman with her life ahead of her, a young woman with hopes and dreams.

"She was part of a loving family and in a loving relationship.

"She was a young woman far from home on an adventure studying in another country.

"You ended all that.

"This young woman died at your hands.

"It is so hard to understand how you could have acted in that way.

"You allowed your sexual desires to overwhelm you. You focused solely on your interests. You had no regard for Ms Collombet.

"Your actions were cowardly. You attacked a woman alone in a park.

"You chose to take those substances.

"You attacked a defenceless woman, you showed her no respect.

"You attacked her inherent dignity as a person, you attacked her dignity as a woman.

"You treated her appallingly and then left her.

"Your behaviour has breached our society's basic code of conduct."

Defence barrister Simon Lewis said his client, who has a history of violence, had struggled with drug abuse since age 15.

He said Milward had advanced to ecstasy, speed and ice by age 19.

Milward told police he had cleaned himself up for a few years but had relapsed not long before his vicious attack.

Mr Lewis said Milward pleaded guilty on the basis he did not intend to kill Ms Collombet but accepted the injuries during the rape led to her death.

He said his client wanted the family to know he had remorse "for the horrible thing that he has done".

"So sorry," Milward said as corrective services officers lead him from the courtroom to his home for at least 20 years.
He has already served 934 days of his life sentence since his arrest in Coffs Harbour.

Milward will be eligible to apply for parole after he has served the mandatory 20-year non-parole period.